Vikings QB Christian Ponder in an entirely new position
BY SEAN JENSEN firstname.lastname@example.org October 13, 2012 1:04AM
Christian Ponder never got off to a proper start as a rookie, winning in just two of 10 starts. | Genevieve Ross~AP
Updated: November 15, 2012 6:25AM
Bears Pro Bowl running back Matt Forte had a forgettable preseason, averaging just 2.4 yards on his 13 carries against opposing No. 1 defenses.
He also didn’t catch a single pass.
Forte, though, isn’t the least bit concerned about his role in Mike Tice’s offense.
‘‘Nobody is going to get 20 carries in a preseason game, so pretty much saving it for the regular season. I was OK with that because I know we’re going to run the ball this year,” Forte said, noting that, in addition to the Bears signing him to a long-term deal, they also signed Michael Bush. ‘‘The run sets up the pass, so we’re just trying to open it up for Jay [Cutler] and Brandon [Marshall] and all the other receivers.’’
What Tice will do with the offense is a mystery, with the Bears purposely not tipping their hand during the preseason games.
So what can we expect?
In Minnesota, when he was the Vikings’ head coach, Tice’s fingerprints were all over the offense, a quarterback-friendly approach predicated on matchups. If quarterback Daunte Culpepper didn’t like the called play, based on hints from the defense, he’d check to another play. If the call was a run but he suspected receiver Randy Moss was going to face single coverage, then he’d audible to a pass play.
But know this: Even with Culpepper and Moss earning Pro Bowl trips, the Vikings’ offense was still run-first. In 2002, Moss and Culpepper had lofty numbers and the Vikings’ offense was ranked ninth in passing yards. But the second-ranked offense was powered by the league’s top-ranked rushing attack, led by Michael Bennett. The next season, the Vikings had the league’s No. 1 offense in yardage and ranked fourth in running and passing.
They were content pummeling you with 4.8-yard runs (their season average), then clobbering you over the top with long touchdowns by Moss and, in a couple of instances, Kelly Campbell and Nate Burleson.
That mentality is why Bears coach Lovie Smith promoted Tice.
In Minnesota, though, Tice had the benefit of two Pro Bowl offensive linemen: Bryant McKinnie and Matt Birk. While none of the Bears’ linemen has achieved that status yet, they do have something in common with that Vikings unit — they’re huge. The average weight of a Bears lineman is nearly 318 pounds.
Tice will empower them to be aggressive, move forward and use the athleticism of center Roberto Garza and guard Lance Louis to get into space. Tice also will use Cutler’s athleticism, moving the pocket and rolling him out.
And the tight ends?
Matt Spaeth will be the blocking tight end, Kellen Davis will be the receiving tight end, and rookie Evan Rodriguez will be the jack-of-all-trades, counted on to do it all, including lining up in the backfield.
Unlike last season under Mike Martz, the Bears won’t too often leave left tackle J’Marcus Webb on the proverbial island all alone against some of the league’s top pass rushers. Sure, he’ll have to win some one-on-one matchups, but more often then not, Tice will scheme to help his young offensive tackle.
Meanwhile, Cutler is probably tickled. Quarterbacks loved playing for Tice, who played that position at Maryland. He won’t ask Cutler to do anything he isn’t comfortable with, and he’ll encourage him to take calculated risks.
Forte, for one, is excited, recalling some of those Viking offenses.
‘‘They worked great together,’’ he said. ‘‘Just because Randy was out there, as a threat, it opened up the run game. Then, when teams were determined to shut down the run, when [Moss] was one-on-one, he was making plays.
‘‘We got to take that form. Whenever there’s a play to be made with Brandon, Devin [Hester] or Alshon [Jeffrey], we got to make those plays. Then, whenever me and Michael get a chance to get to the second level, we have got to make someone miss and make some big plays in the run game.’’
In putting together my package on No. 1 receivers, I was torn about one veteran, Wes Welker of the New England Patriots. He’s prolific, he’s productive, and he’s even clutch. According to STATS, last season, he was second in the league (with 26) in clutch catches, defined as receptions on third or fourth down that result in a touchdown or first down.
But not a single scout, coach or player I talked to in putting together my list believed Welker was a true No. 1.
Champ Bailey, an 11-time Pro Bowl selection and the best cover corner of his generation, agreed with my omission.
‘‘He’s not dangerous in those aspects, like going deep,’’ Bailey said. ‘‘He’s a shorter guy, so it’s easier to knock [the ball] down. He’s probably the best slot receiver in the league. And another thing, he’s got one of the best quarterbacks in the league.
‘‘He works hard, and he’s the best slot guy in the league. But I can’t put him with Larry Fitzgerald.’’